The question was an odd one, considering Jack Mewhort entered the Ohio State program in 2009, a year in which the Buckeyes were squarely in the midst of a run of six consecutive Big Ten championships and BCS appearances.
Did this current senior class leave the program in better shape than when it arrived, the goal of every class when it arrives at a football school like Ohio State?
Mewhort pondered the question, but it was a fair one considering what happened from the time he arrived as a fresh-faced kid from Toledo and he left as an All-American and senior captain who helped restore the Ohio State program and brand after a year of nearly uninterrupted controversy.
Finally, after acknowledging that the program was in a pretty good state when he first got to Columbus, the left tackle had an answer.
“We got it back to where Ohio State should be,” Mewhort said. “We keep talking about these last two games, and obviously we would have liked to have come out on top of those, but I keep saying, I think our seniors did a good job of setting the template of how to come to work every day and do things the right way on and off the field. Hopefully, we’ll be remembered for that.”
There is a good chance that’s how this group – which included 10 fifth-year seniors, including Mewhort – will go down in the record books.
The unfortunate thing for them, though, is how close they came to doing more.
The Buckeyes achieved a lot over the past two seasons, last year posting just the sixth undefeated, untied season in school history and this year running a school-record winning streak to 24 games, the best in the Big Ten in more than 60 years. In each season, OSU ran away with the Leaders Division title in the league as well.
But the Big Ten Championship Game loss to Michigan State and the Orange Bowl defeat at the hands of Clemson left the team short of a conference title, a national championship or a bowl win in each of the last two years, though each of those goals was off the table a season ago thanks to the postseason ban for the undefeated Buckeyes.
In other words, what the Buckeyes did do the past two seasons is nothing to sneeze at, but a chance to make a program history at a place where history is hard to come by was in the grasp of the team’s veterans but instead slipped away.
“We had a good two-year run where we did pretty well,” fifth-year senior center Corey Linsley said. “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t finish the job. We fell short of our goal to differentiate ourselves from every other Ohio State team. We’re another good Ohio State team, and Ohio State has been doing this for 100 years. We were trying to do better, but I’m excited to see what is in the future.”
While that disappointment was raw in the locker room at the Orange Bowl, a few yards away at the postgame press conference, head coach Urban Meyer was striking a more positive tone.
When discussing a group that included senior captains Mewhort, Linsley, backup quarterback Kenny Guiton, receiver Corey Brown and safeties C.J. Barnett and Christian Bryant, Meyer was exceedingly complimentary of a unit that helped him bring the program back from the low point of a 6-7 season in 2011 that was marred by off-the-field issues and on-field disappointment.
“The senior class, we just said an emotional goodbye to them,” Meyer said. “It’s not just because they’re seniors, it’s because of what they’ve done. I tried to make that perfectly clear. Just because you stay some place for a couple of years doesn’t mean you deserve that respect. It’s what you did and how you did it.”
And who you did it with, if one listened to the postgame comments in the locker room.
“Obviously we didn’t finish the way I thought we would or the way we wanted to,” Brown said. “Overall, I’m happy to have been able to build this relationship and this bond with the dudes. I wouldn’t trade any of my teammates for the world.
“The dudes that I’m doing it with, everybody here is all in. It’s truly a brotherhood around here. I don’t think you could say that anywhere else. It doesn’t get any better than this.”
Mewhort agreed, noting that what he learned in college and the friendships he made were the kinds of things that will stick out down the road just as much as or more than wins and losses.
“It’s always going to be hard,” Mewhort said. “My college career did not end the way I thought it would or I wanted it to, so every time I look back it’s going to be tough for me. It stings now, but when you think about wins and losses, you kind of get a different view in your head than what is actually going on, and that is all the great relationships I developed, and that’s something I’ll never forget.
“I love these guys I’ve been around for these last two years and friendships that will last forever to me.”
And when the chips were down, this team often battled back. That included throughout their careers, from the very bottom of NCAA sanctions and the removal of head coach Jim Tressel, and a 24-game winning streak that included six fourth-quarter comebacks.
“I think that we’re very resilient,” Mewhort said. “I think we’re hard workers, good people, good football players and even better people, so I like to think that will be the legacy.”